Romance Ebook Sales Stats From Europe: Dominance and Submission

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

shutterstock_167682770In a genre full of dominance and submission, we rip away the bodices and lift the masks to reveal the truth behind the sales figures.

Figures from the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) in this report from late last year highlight that romance/erotica is the top selling ebook genre and has the largest gap in digital vs. physical shares. That report also explains how Amazon, B&N Nook and Apple have 95% of the market between them, heavily skewed in Amazon’s favor. Dominance and submission, anyone?

The first thing that pops-up when discussing the romance and erotica genre is the impact of self-publishers. It is particularly strong in this area and has turned this genre into probably the most competitive space. It’s a honey-pot for avid readers and self-published authors – a match made in heaven if ever there was one!

I have come across many “start-up” presses that have gone from zero to several million turnover inside three years, based on a smart digital strategy and an incredible community that buys, reads, writes and curates the content they love. Many mainstream publishers would give anything for that kind of loyalty and “community.”

Some of the dangers of such a close tie between self-published (and in some ways unregulated) content and racy material was brought to the world’s attention late last year when the retailer WH Smith had to take its website offline after a porn ebook scandal. The WH Smith site was and is powered by Kobo, and when the story broke, it emerged that Kobo’s first action was to focus on the self-published aspect of this genre to try and find a resolution. It prompted this superb and very entertaining explanation from Michael Tamblyn, formerly Chief Content Officer, now President, at Kobo, which raised some intriguing questions:

At one point, we had people in half a dozen countries working around the clock trying to get books back in as fast as possible. A hundred bizarre conversations. Is it bestiality if it’s sex with a shape shifter? What if both participants are supernatural? What is the age of consent in each territory we sell in? Does it matter if the character is in a coma and everything that takes place is happening in a dream? Is this book in or out?

So how has this genre been affected by the penetration of self-published authors?

Well, one of the main thrusts of our examination is on the flexibility that self-publishers bring to marketing and discoverability. In lots of ways, self-published authors are leading traditional publishers in terms of metadata, pricing, building communities, building brands and agile strategies. Obviously the figures vary significantly from genre to genre, but it does appear that the self-published market is more comfortable with a ‘lower’ price point. It may seem counterintuitive, but avid ebook readers are more sensitive to price than are occasional readers.

We believe this is because avid readers have a long list of titles that they want to read. They routinely look for discounts and promotions, and given how many there are at any one time, avid readers usually find at least one of their titles on sale.

Occasional readers, on the other hand, tend to have one specific title that they want to read. They see a review or are recommended a book by someone, and they go get the ebook. They prefer not to wait until that title is discounted, nor do they want to spend their time searching out the lowest price. They just purchase the book they want for the asking price.

This has an obvious impact on erotica and on series linking. It has also impacted the sales channel dynamics, and in looking into these two BISAC codes, for the period of January 1, 2013 to today, we see a number of interesting points:

FIC027000       FICTION / Romance / General

FIC027010       FICTION / Romance / Erotica

Key Points:

  • Amazon is the alpha dog in this space (no surprise there).
  • Other sales channels that are quite virile are ebooks.com, Flipkart, Apple, Kobo, eVooks by Sainsburys, Txtr, Asia Books, Fishpond and Libri.
  • The subscription offerings are doing well in this genre.
  • The library sales channels don’t do as well compared with other genres.
  • FIC027000 and FIC027010 appear to have fewer ‘mega-hits’ than any other genre, meaning there is a much wider spread of titles and therefore a more attractive market for the self-publisher.
  • The lack of ‘mega-hits’ means that there is much more market share and revenue to be had for everyone (in some genres there is one title, or a small handful of titles, that dominate and take most of the sales).
  • Sales are comparatively healthy in every channel that takes this content. Some channels are way up or way down in genres like business or sport, but FIC027000 and FIC027010 does well everywhere!
  • Less seasonality impact with no significant spikes around summer or Christmas. Sales are just consistently growing.
  • The South Africans are a romantic bunch – this is the only genre we have dug into where ZA is in the top five countries. Geographic top five are U.S., UK, India, Australia and South Africa.

One commonality erotica does have with other genres is that the optimal pricing of ebooks varies by country. Okay — obvious, I know, but although most publishers are aware of this, not many are actually doing anything tangible about it.

In the UK, for instance, the best price point for many genres is just under £5 (about $7.50). In the U.S. for the same genres the best price point is just under $10. We see these price points standing out through our analytics, and it was backed up in research conducted by Rachel Willmer, which she wrote about in a TechCrunch article on January 15 of this year.

There are some other takeaways from our analysis, most of which are pretty widely known and accepted already, but it’s good to have the data to back it up. No surprise that series linking is a big driver of sales and that cover images/metadata also has a significant impact on sales.

Finally, we did spot 1 gap in the market that seems to be under-serviced if anyone wants to go for it – business romance! (I’m not sure Shark Tank or Dragons Den lend towards great erotica however!)

I hope all that makes for some interesting reading, and I would love to hear if you agree or disagree with anything above as always.

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